Friday, August 26, 2011

Is Corruption our biggest worry?

                I had kept away from the whole Annaesque turn that our lives had taken by refraining myself from reading the newspaper and watching news channels.  And it didn’t seem to stop there. I was witness to thousands of people holding candles and parading central park (in Bangalore). Men on bikes were shouting slogans and waving flags at the surge of this newly found patriotism. I rather forego all this till the next time I watch Rang De Basanti. The blog was a last resort when I started receiving text messages and email petitions to support our savior against corruption. I hate to sound harsh, unpatriotic and boring but have we toed the line this time around?
                Moving away from this, I remember an incident from a couple of years back. My friend and I were having a beer and discussing work. We happened to notice the blonde guy at the next table because he spoke in Hindi with the waiter. He was paying off the bill and remarked, “Indians generally tip about 10 Rs, right?” We were only 1 beer down (Fosters wouldn’t surely raise our patriotic voices against this gora). We smiled and nodded our heads. “Yes, Yes you are absolutely right.” He had heard part of our conversation and assumed that we worked for some American company that sells credit-cards or housing loans, apparently from our accents. We didn’t take the trouble of explaining that we worked with recruitments. My buddy wanted to smoke, so we stepped out. We met up with the guy and started talking. Kevin was from Australia (Ozzie for Beer) and called himself Ghanashyam. His parents had taken to ISKON when he was young and they quite rigorously followed it. They had given up meat, re-christened themselves with Indian names, sang bhajans on Krishna and made frequent trips to Haridwar and Varanasi. We were curious, how on earth did they get into it in the first place?
                His answer surprised us. In the 90’s, some of them started getting bored with life. They wanted to do something different, and the whole idea of Hinduism seemed entertaining. Wearing a saree, smearing your body with sandalwood paste and going bonkers.
                Is this sudden form of patriotism a similar distraction? A path that deviates from the boring lives that we lead? Anna Hazare is a true Gandhian, he shuns alcohol and tobacco products, doesn’t watch movies from multiplexes and surely doesn’t go pub-hopping. What are the ideals of the youth who follow him? Let’s not consider him the Jimi Hendricks of our time attracting an audience at a concert.
                Over the past 1 year, I had interacted with a certain contact at the client side. The guy had a reputation of taking gifts (as they call it) in cash and kind from most of the client-partners. It seemed highly hypocritical when he sent out a mail asking us to support Anna Hazare. We need to look hard and recognize the person on the other side of the mirror before demarcating the men and women who rule the country. When a woman gets raped in an alley or someone gets run over in the middle of the road, our busy lives don’t allow us to stop and help them out. Can we donate blood without thinking about the recipient, whether he’s black, white, religious, Catholic, Ezhava or Suni? When the country faced threats of communal riots following the Ayodhya debacle, why didn’t the public stand up and say that we are united? We all hid in the comforts of our houses expecting the law enforcers to keep everything under control. We drink and drive, and when caught pay off the cop to avoid being arrested. We break the rules and now support someone in creating rules that presumably will clean up the country. We use private hospitals, educate our children in the private schools, refrain from paying taxes and complain about the way the country is run. When we are gifted television sets and food processors to vote for these leaders, we happily oblige.
If you want to take the fight ahead, go ahead and provide shelter to the homeless, educate the uneducated and provide charity to the deserved. Wearing black dresses and white hats and updating our status messages on social networks won’t change the world. Let’s take a stand against foeticide, atrocities against women and prostitution of 14-year olds. Would the Lokpal bill allow our women folk to walk in the streets without fear? The answer to the question should hopefully provide direction to our revolutions. On the other hand, if we feel that the bill against corruption would kick off the other rebellions, why do we need to wear a shirt that says, “I am Anna?” Why not, “Fight against Corruption?” Is this Anna’s fight or ours?
64 years of freedom has revealed more darkness than light. When we don the tricolor paint on our face and call ourselves patriotic, it doesn’t segregate us from the clowns in a circus. You can fool some people for some time, but you can’t fool yourself every time. Just an afterthought, once this is done and dusted, where are we headed? What's trending on twitter?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An open book

     1998. 9th standard. Life wasn't all about History, Chemistry and Maths then. Computers were in the stage of evolution, and cellphones were like UFOs. Someone claimed to have seen them, but no one could swear to it that it existed. Our entertainment were restricted to board games, Monopoly and Scrabble ruled the roost then, kids nowadays call these apps on their funky i-phones. But within the walls of our classroom, a game existed. A game that had caught the imagination of the Indian youth. Cricket was still a religion, and Sachin our God.
      The first hour would go on perfectly fine. We would remain fresh and active during the class. The second hour would generally resort to slight murmur of disapproval. In the third hour, it would start. A slight ruffle in the last bench. Rajeev and Unni sat there. I would turn back from the penultimate row and check out. The pitch report had started, it would be the English text book. Good seaming conditions, slightly overcast. The book had a cover. Over the next half an hour, there would a flurry of activity and the rest of the class would be aware of the proceedings. As we made our way for lunch, the discussion would be about the close calls during that match.
      The second session was the best. Six of us would split into two teams - Rajeev, Peter and me, Arun, Arjun and Vivek. Sometimes we'd have another two join as well. But the bigger the team, the higher the risk of being caught by the match referee, namely the class teacher. This game was an appended version of the classical game. The first person would stroll out to bat, turn to the last page of his rough note. The bowler would walk to his mark, cover his hand and write a number in his book. He would have to keep the book shut and lift his hand, else it was a no-ball (free hits weren't discovered during those days). The rest of the team would wait with bated breath as the batsman showed a digit with his fingers. If it was the same number, he was out. Else, the scoring had kicked off and the game would proceed. At the end of every over, there would be a bowling change and the innings would be completed at the fall of all 3 wickets.
      The best part of the game was the style associated with each player. Peter, for example would write really quick and his over rate was generally better. Rajeev on the other hand resembled a modern-version of Praveen Kumar. He would take a good, long look at the batsman before writing the next number. Each one had his strengths, everyone had their Achilles heel. The game would have its share of gentlemen and a few sledges. But, all of it in the spirit of the game. In fact, we had sworn to secrecy if we got caught, the fined player would claim that he was scribbling during the class.
      2011. I spend 10-12 hours at work. And in the midst of it all, I yearn for those days, those games. And browsing through the apps in Intel AppUp Center, though Bejeweled and Angry Birds seem exciting for a while, there's one game that I hold close to my heart. Book Cricket. I do agree that the feeling's not the same. It isn't the same old English text book, there are no close-in fielders watching the action and there's no sledging. Nevertheless the excitement brings a tingle to my spine as I wait for the number to be generated. It's a memorabilia of sorts. One that brings out the little boy within, sitting in that classroom.
     Times have changed. We have computer games that allow us to be a Sachin or Ponting. Cricinfo desktop scorecards are open on our desktop while we are at work. But those days remind me of an era gone by, a ritual that involves an open book.

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Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

     "When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
     Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
     A small section from Steve Jobs' commencement address in Stanford University on June 12, 2005. You can find the rest of it here.
     Any time when I feel distraught or depressed about my future, I either watch the video or read the transcript of this speech. And every single time it reminds me that life's too short to fret our disappointments and failures.
      I found a good friend of mine after half-a-decade. Not surprisingly though, we met on Facebook. Having exchanged pleasantries, the conversation seemed to dwindle away. A decade back, we used to sit and chit chat for hours together. Not on any social networking site, but in the company of other friends. Over time, in an era that saw the emergence of cellphones and landlines, our conversations were restricted to hour-length calls. And now, when everyone's available in an world of instant messaging and web conferencing, the words seemed to be missing. As our worlds shrink, do the relationships follow suit? All our life, we run around investing in materialistic wealth and friendships. And within a blink of the eye, all of it turns into vapor. Career, achievements, awards, rewards. All of it turns life into a nasty rat race. And where does it all end? Six feet under.
"If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right."